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Lord Strathclyde: I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way. Perhaps I may take the noble and learned Lord back to the point about public perception, which is important. For some years the House of Commons has maintained a much tougher register than this House. Is it the view of the noble and learned Lord that that enhances the reputation of another place? Complaints are often made vexaciously and for political reasons. For example, we need only look at the recent examples of the Prime Minister's nanny, William Hague's use of a gym and John Major's lecture trips to the United States. Is it the view of the noble Lord that the House of Commons has a higher reputation in the conscience of the public than this House which has a far lesser regulatory regime but one which has worked extremely well since it was introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, in 1995?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Lord has made a number of points which are obviously important. Before the notorious scandals at the other end of the Palace, if anyone had said to me that Members of Parliament were in the habit of taking £2,000 for asking parliamentary questions I should simply have refused to believe it. But I was living in a naive world of my own.

The House of Commons has a different regime to the one proposed here. That is why I believe it is legitimate to say--I shall repeat it, waiting for the hollow laughter--that we have adopted a much lighter touch. I am not sure that it is proper for me to criticise what the Commons committee did or the preliminary conclusions arrived at by Miss Filkin. However, I understand that a number of the examples given by the noble Lord may well have found a degree of favour in thinking that there was a disproportion. We deliberately tried not to get out of kilter or be disproportionate. We do not have the elaborate regime which is in place at the Commons.

The noble Lord was good enough to mention the Griffiths resolution of 1995, which includes "friends". It is not we who have introduced "friends". I think that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, will have to agree that it is not entirely extraordinary. It is already in the declaratory rules on which we voted in November 1995. However, I shall continue.

Lord Marlesford: The noble and learned Lord chose to give us an example of a 1 per cent shareholding in BP. It is valuable to have such guidance. However, the example chosen was remarkable and perhaps does not apply to anybody in this place. Let us suppose that it

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was 0.1 per cent, 0.01 per cent or 0.001 per cent, all of which might pass his test as being seen by some as significant. As he chose to give us guidance in the case of shares of BP, would he not go further and give us a little more guidance? Frankly, the example he gave was not helpful.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I was not giving guidance, I was providing a rationale for the rule. It may be that a small component shareholding in a large international company may be of significance, but I shall repeat what I said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. Paragraph 12 specifically states that the list is not exhaustive and that

    "relevant financial interests" may also include (depending on their significance)".

Their significance depends on the issue on which we might be voting. Some issues on which we might be voting might have a marginal tangential relationship to BP, for instance. On the other hand, we might be voting on a matter of great importance relating to the construction of a pipeline. In those circumstances, a significant large holding in BP might well fall to be registered.

If one wants a completely dictatorial Holy Writ approach, which I do not, one would have to have an enormous document--the New Testament, the Old Testament and the Apocrypha--in order to deal with all these questions. I hope that the more we develop the dialogue the more your Lordships will come to see that we have produced a light touch, flexible, subtle tool. All of these questions can be answered if one simply looks at what has been set out.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: I am disturbed by the phrase "public perception". First, are we talking about decent ordinary people or are we talking about the media? Secondly, I find the mention of "friend" difficult. I have an enormous range of friends but I do not have the slightest notion whether they have shares in BP or anything else. It has nothing to do with my friendship and I do not know it. I could easily stand and argue a case, wholly unaware that I was in the happy position of having the friendship of someone who owned the entire company. I do not know that kind of information about my friends and I do not ask them. I believe that most people feel the same.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, drew the distinction between ordinary decent people and the media. I do not accept that distinction.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Your Lordships will be kind enough to allow me to explain why. In the past four years, during which there has been a significant Government majority in the House of Commons, a significant even though irritating role has been played by the media in holding up government and executive to account. Some would say that that was a duty discharged by the media--although not every part and

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aspect from comics to broadsheets. A significant part of print and broadcast media work is to challenge, possibly even to raise questions which may seem to be unfair or cynical. Therefore, I do not draw the same distinction. I believe that in a civil democracy one needs a press to ask questions, even when they are disagreeable.

As regards the question relating to friends, having know the noble Baroness a long time I know that she has a vast circle of friends. If she does not know that they have any interests, the question does not arise. It could be of no significance because if one of her former students--and I know that she is in regular correspondence with students from far-flung areas of the globe--had an interest about which she knew nothing, it would never become relevant. I repeat that we have worked on the friends concept since Griffiths.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Perhaps I may--

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I know that the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, rose first.

Baroness O'Cathain: I thank the Minister. My point was exactly the same as that raised by my noble friend Lady Park.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Is the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House aware that the longer the cross-examination of him from the Conservative Benches continues the more some of us on the Liberal Democrat Benches become convinced of the need for the code, and for the general principles, as it seems that the principles are not well enough understood as they stand?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Lord, Lord Henley, said, "Give him a job", but apparently they have all been given. I am happy to answer these questions because if there are anxieties, even if they are not well based, I ought to try to deal with them.

Lord Renton: Before the noble and learned Lord sits down--

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I was not going to sit down for a moment or two but I shall do so. I was simply giving the reference to the resolution of this House, which stated:

    "Such interests may be indirect or non-pecuniary, for instance, the interest of a relation or friend".

Therefore, the provision is no new thing but I shall happily give way.

Lord Renton: I do not believe that we have left paragraph 12, the controversial paragraph. Will the noble and learned Lord be so good as to give a definition of "friend", bearing in mind that all of us have many friends in your Lordships' House? Indeed, I like to think that the noble and learned Lord is a friend.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Of course and I happily reciprocate. However, in all our many conversations

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about life, history and the civilisation of the western world neither of us has ever inquired what financial or real property interests the other has. Therefore the question would not arise.

I would not be able this side of Armageddon to produce a definition of "friend" which would satisfy all noble Lords, let alone a minority. I say simply that we have worked on this basis in a friendly way since the Griffiths resolution was adopted in 1995. If one approaches the matter in a sensible, light touch way, it is not difficult.

The Earl of Listowel: This is a serious point, whatever the precedents may be. There is an ill-natured element within the press and one can imagine it possibly abusing this particular aspect. Would it not be wisest to leave out mention of "friend" in order to prevent vexatious use? As regards my family, I can think of times when the press has not treated us particularly fairly and I am sure that noble Lords can quickly think of examples where some aspects within the media have taken advantage.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Your Lordships will vote on this matter because it is part of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. I do not believe that there have been such disastrous consequences since 7th November 1995 when the Griffiths resolution was adopted:

    "Such interests may be indirect or non-pecuniary, for example the interest of a relation or friend ... and they may include past and future interests".

Therefore the provision is quite wide.

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